222 : Miss Servano the Yoruba interpreter, London 1859

At the Old Bailey on 4 July 1859 John Bardoe was charged with stabbing, cutting and wounding a police officer with intent to murder him or cause him grievous harm. He was known as John Black but appears to have been Aude Ojun, an Egba. He feared being kidnapped. It was a London docklands case with an Italian captain and an Italian witness who said the captain had told her about a black man and he was brought to her house (he spoke Genoese-Italian but no English). When he became ill she sought to get him to a hospital. When the police came he locked himself in his room then escaped to the roof. Bardoe was alleged to be a slave. A policeman had twelve cuts from a knife – a doctor testified that three were very serious. Bardoe testified through an interpreter that he had been sold in Lagos, had met two countrymen in London and believed he would have a job with wages but received only food. The knife was for self-defence. Bardoe was found not guilty. His interpreter was ‘Miss M. B. Servano, a native of Yorubah [sic], and educated in England’.
Her name does not reappear in Old Bailey reports and nothing has been traced on her.
Daily News, London 30 June 1859 and oldbaileyonline.org ref t18590704-685.

In December 2020 I was contacted by Susan Ladipo who advised that the name was Matilda Serrano, that she got married in St John’s church, Chatham, to the Nigerian businessman James Labulo Davies in August 1859 when the officiating minister was the Revd James F. Schon. She died, probably in childbirth, and her husband then married Sarah Forbes Bonetta (see this website’s page 020). With the correct spelling of the surname it was possible to trace announcements of the wedding of 24 August – the Morning Post and St James’s Gazette (both London and on 30 August 1859, page 8) and the more local Kent South Eastern Gazette (also 30 August). The Schon family was very closely involved with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) of London. More details appeared on the front page of the Londonderry Sentinel of 9 September 1859 but why this Ulster newspaper was interested in the marriage of two Africans in distant south-east England is not known.

The Sentinel noted ‘about three hundred spectators witnessed the novel sight’ and added that Serrano ‘of Lagos, who has been for the past five years in Chatham, under the care and tuition of the Rev. J. F. Schon’ had ‘Princess Bonnetta’ and three of the Schon daughters as bridesmaids. CMS minister, ‘a native clergyman of Sierra Leone)’ Revd J. C. Taylor assisted at the altar. Schon had been on the 1841 Niger expedition along with Samuel Crowther, the African destined to be a bishop. Crowther was a semi-regular visitor to Chatham.

Many thanks to Susan Ladipo


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